Sometimes the path of least resistance leads to a dead end in officiating. It’s time to say what you need to say. Just make sure you say it the right way.
By the Referee editors
We’re used to practicing restraint in conversations with coaches and players, because saying it like it is could cost us our careers. But should being “safe” in what we say extend to those in and outside the industry who are on our side? So often we want to say something to improve our crew, association and career, but don’t because we’re afraid we might offend someone or don’t know how to say it the proper way.
It’s time to speak up … and we’ll provide you with the guidance to say the right things when it’s time to talk to your partners, crew chiefs, assigners, local and state association leaders and spouse.
1. “You’re not good; you stink.”
As much as you want to and as much as it might be warranted, that’s an example of what not to say. But you should say something. Confronting a partner who is not making the grade is difficult but important. Start by bringing up some positives (there must be a few) in his or her game, and then share some aspects your partner needs to work on and offer positive suggestions on how he or she can improve.
2. “Just shut up.”
Some officials like to talk and they need a reminder to zip it. Cover the topic in your pregame or postgame. Stress the importance of staying focused on the game and the perception problem caused by talking to the nearest coach between every inning or break in the action. It might take video of the game along with your words to really drive the problem home. Seeing is believing and will hopefully lead to golden silence when appropriate.
3. “Stay for the postgame.”
Games can go long, but the partners that “can’t” take an extra five minutes for a postgame talk can drive you crazy. We’ve all got things to do and we want to get home, but a few minutes now could help tremendously in the long run. If your partner is flying out of the locker room as soon as you enter it, unless it is for an emergency, insist that the official stays. Flat out tell your partner he or she needs to stay. And explain why you are insisting. Most officials will stay, possibly grudgingly, but that’s a start.
4. “Lose weight; take a shower.”
If your partner literally cleaned up his or her act and dropped a few pounds, bigger and better assignments would likely be waiting. Sometimes it takes a crewmate who is a close friend to tell the official. It’s easy to ignore issues if no one brings them up. But if you tell your peer the need for improvement, it might be the kick in the pants he or she needs. Before having the talk, you better makes sure your look and hygiene are in order.
Sure, your partner has to want to make a change, but hearing from you that it’s necessary is important. Explain that it’s all part of a professional approach, a little thing that pays dividends toward overall perception. If you’re fat and obviously not in good physical condition, you’ll be perceived as lazy, whether you are or not.
5. “Go to a camp.”
If your crewmate would get it through his or her thick head about the benefits of attending a camp, maybe he or she wouldn’t be whining so much about not getting better assignments. After you attend a camp, share with your partner how much you have learned. Encourage your crewmate to attend with you next time. Highlight the benefits of attending a camp: learning new philosophies and being seen by the people who are in position to give you better assignments.
Tell your peer, “If you can show the clinicians what you can do, you just may get a chance to show them during the season and postseason as well.” That’s a message he or she can’t refuse.
6. “Stop calling in my area.”
When your partner calls in your area, it’s fairly obvious he or she doesn’t trust you or doesn’t know where to be looking. Either way, your partner’s not watching his or her own area.
Show and tell your partner, “I can handle my area and I don’t appreciate getting shown up by you on a play or situation that is there for me to judge. Worse, now I have to explain to the coach standing next to me why I didn’t make that call and you did. You’re not making my job any easier. You don’t have to be Superman out there. Let’s work as a crew to manage this game.”
Speaking your mind is important. Then you must listen. Maybe your partner doesn’t trust you (and for good reason). Earn that trust.
7. “Be on time.”
Talking to your partner about showing up on time will help him or her in the long run. Maybe work commitments are an issue, but by being consistently late or rolling up five to 10 minutes before the game begins, your partner is harming the reputation of the whole crew. Some reasons for promptness to stress include: It offers a chance for a pregame to work on mechanics, crew communication, presence, rules enforcement, etc. That will help your crew to get into a productive mind-set for games.
8. “You’re not a player anymore.”
A lot of former players move toward officiating to be a part of the game. They just need to remember that they’re not playing the game anymore. A reminder that the glory days are over can be important at times. Stress that, as a sports official, he or she needs to act like one and dress like one. Showing up to a game wearing sweatpants, the latest name-brand basketball shoes and a T shirt are no-nos. It’s about the game. A good way to show respect toward it is how you dress while arriving to the event, during the event and afterward.
9. “Get rid of Joe Smith.”
If a crewmate isn’t good enough or capable enough anymore, and your crew chief is keeping the official around when he or she should be gone, it’s important to talk about it. The conversation should be done privately without the other crewmates. Then you have to ask some questions: “Why do you insist on keeping this guy or gal on the crew? I know you two are friends and have worked together a long time, but it’s affecting the crew’s overall performance. Have you talked to him or her about performance or retirement?”
By avoiding the problem, you may prevent an awkward conversation, but your crew’s rankings will likely take a hit. Make clear to the crew chief potential issues with inaction: there’s a good chance others will gradually leave, state tournament assignments will not be in our future, etc.
If a crew chief is on edge, crewmates are likely going to be as well. With so many responsibilities, it’s no wonder some crew chiefs get a little uptight. If something goes wrong, it’s their fault. But if a crew chief is uptight, it’s difficult for the rest of the crew to remain calm and officiate the game. Advising your crew chief to “relax” is important, but along with that should be an offering of assistance from the crew. Maybe officials could volunteer to rotate leading a pregame or postgame discussion.
11. “Be prepared. Have a pregame.”
Some crew chiefs are so relaxed or lackadaisical that they don’t even have a pregame. In that case, you need to ask for one and get the backing from the rest of the crew when you do. Pregames are important, no matter what the level of experience of each member in the crew. Just because you’ve been working together for years doesn’t mean that everything will run like clockwork. Your crew chief needs to be reminded of that. A heads-up on the teams, coaches, game management and everyone’s assignments will go a long way. If a pregame gets old, vary the style/format.
13. “It’s OK to say ‘no’ to games.”
Burnout is real. If you think your crew’s assignments were too much to handle the previous year. Talk to your crew chief as early as possible before the next year’s scheduling and explain that it’s OK to take a break and say no to a few games. In fact, it would be healthy for the crew to have a few more days off. The rest will pay off late in the season.
14. “Get off your high horse.”
We don’t recommend using those words, but getting the message across is important or you and your crewmates may grow to resent your leader. Getting the message across should begin with a positive: “We all know that you’re a good official and that’s a major reason why we selected you to be the crew chief, but understand that it’s not all about you. Put others on the crew up on a pedestal here and there. Positive reinforcement is a good thing, too. As good of an official as you are, you can be even better by adjusting your attitude.”
15. “My schedule sucks.”
If you’re not happy with your schedule, it’s OK to voice some concerns. Saying it “sucks” might give you no schedule at all, which would suck even more. So how do you get the message across without using the wrong words? Ask the supervisor/assigner what you need to do in order to get better or more games? By asking the question, you’re conveying your displeasure with your schedule in a productive way.
16. “Why was he or she on this game?”
Assignments don’t always make sense, but questioning the assigner’s judgment isn’t recommended. If you don’t agree with an official assigned to a game with you, use the methods within the system to question it. Maybe it’s a peer evaluation or maybe you ask the assigner if he or she will review the game video and evaluate your crew. That brings your partner’s faults to the forefront without throwing him or her under the bus.
17. “How about standing up for your officials?”
“You know what that coach did was wrong, but you aren’t doing anything about it. We elected you and you are a member of our board. Why should we have to put up with that from a coach?” Assigners and supervisors should have officials’ backs when tough times arise. In order to expect a lot from them, officials must work with high integrity and professionalism.
18. “Take care of the coaches.”
If it goes beyond one incident and coaches show a pattern of behavior, officials have a responsibility to the game to ask assigners/supervisors to take further action. Tougher sporting behavior requirements are a possible solution. Fair is fair. Tell the assigner, “Don’t ask us to be professional without expecting the same from them.”
19. “Don’t forget where you came from!”
Administrative duties can cause some assigners and supervisors to forget their oncourt and onfield roots. So how do you remind them? You might want to say, “You are one of us … or at least you were! You know our personalities, our good traits and our bad. You know what sets us off. Don’t just sit in your office and schedule games … be an effective champion for us!” A better approach might be to talk to the assigner about a specific issue, asking how he or she would have handled it when officiating. It reminds assigners/supervisors of their background and reintroduces the challenges you’re facing.
21. “Evaluate more!”
Evaluating is another topic that should be brought up by the group. If you and the members of your officials association want the assigner to see and evaluate more games, you should list it as part of his or her formal duties. That gets the message across from the masses and will make more of an impact on the individual. And as a result, the assigner will better see who can really officiate and who can’t.
22. “The meetings are lame.”
It’s obviously boring to have someone read from the rulebook at meetings and most officials associations have moved beyond that. But some local association meetings are indeed boring and lame. If you are not happy with your association’s meetings, it’s OK to voice your concern to leadership. But along with your constructive criticism, you better have some meaningful suggestions on how to engage and challenge membership in another way. Without the ideas, why should anyone listen to you?
23. “It’s the 21st Century! Use technology.”
One way to instantly boost your local association’s meetings is through the use of technology. Suggest to your leadership that a PowerPoint presentation would add wonders to meetings. Oh, and video plays would make them even better! If you are good with technology, leaders may even solicit your help in preparing some of the multi-media presentations.
24. “Nobody cares about the war stories.”
If meeting presenters are using too much time to regale members about that “one game in Brown County,” it might be time to ask that presentations stay on point and remain focused on education. If leaders want to share their war stories, they can do so after the meeting over a beer (with the few members who haven’t heard them before). The best time to address a long-winded presenter is after the meeting in private. Don’t embarrass your leadership by asking them to zip it during the meeting presentation.
25. “Join NASO en masse.”
If you’re a National Association of Sports Officials member, you know the benefits of membership. Don’t keep those to yourself. Pitch NASO group membership to the leaders in your local association. Group membership allows all the officials in your association to get insurance, educational discounts, MICP consultation and more from NASO through a discounted group membership rate. The details of group membership, available on the NASO website (naso.org) provide leaders what they need to know to join.
26. “I’m leaving for a better association.”
It’s never easy saying goodbye, but sometimes it’s necessary to cut ties with an officials association if it isn’t living up to your expectations and helping to make you a better official. Have the courage to tell your group’s leadership in person that you are leaving for another association. And go the next step. Tell them why. It may hurt or upset the leaders at the moment, but it may actually help them grow in the future.
27. “Give us a voice.”
If association board members are making key directional decisions without the input of the general membership, it’s appropriate for you and others to speak up and ask board members how your voice can be heard. But understand that sometimes leaders have to make tough decisions. With too many different voices, nothing gets accomplished.
29. “Stop using coaches’ ratings (unless they work).”
The fact that most zeros are from coaches that lose and the high scores come from winning coaches should clue state office leaders in on a problem. Coaches often aren’t objective when they’re emotionally invested. But the problem is that studies have shown that officials aren’t very objective when it comes to rating peers either, so there is no easy solution. Ideally you can suggest that assigners, retired officials and administrators evaluate periodically to check accuracy of the scores. Beyond that, ask the state office to throw out the really high and low ratings.
30. “No one does the test by themselves.”
The truth is a lot of officials share answers on rules tests. Painting fellow officials in a bad light to state associations isn’t exactly recommended. But bringing such a problem to the attention of your local leadership to address with the state is appropriate. Suggest that the state office vary the order of the questions or provide other requirements. It will help to weed out those who are taking the easy way out.
31. “Give us some real training.”
Yes, there are some officials who cut corners on tests, but there are many who want to learn as much as possible about officiating. In order to do that, it’s OK to ask state associations to expect more of local associations in their educating roles. Maybe they can require associations to be certified and to provide proper training for officials. On a greater scale, suggest the state office host a state officiating day each year to provide extra education and motivation. State offices won’t know what you want unless you ask for it.
32. “Watch a game.”
In order to know what we’re going through, in order to have a handle on the sportsmanship issues we’re dealing with, in order to understand the professionalism we exhibit day in and night out, state office leaders need to watch some games. State office leaders should watch officials work in various sports once in a while. Inviting a state leader to your next game probably isn’t the way to make an impact, but working through your local association to ask state leaders how often they get to see a game or inviting them to a big rivalry game, might be a way to say what you want to say.
33. “Give us the benefit of the doubt.”
Officials understand that they make mistakes. But whether they make a mistake or not, they are doing their best on the field and court, and they hope and expect the state office to support their efforts. State office personnel should have your back when coaches are “crying” that you lost the game for their team. One call, no matter what time in the game it occurs, is just a call. Teams win and lose games. If your state doesn’t support you like it should, contacting state leaders with the backing of fellow officials is appropriate.
34. “It’s not all fun and games.”
We all know there is more to officiating than getting on the field or court to ply our trade. In order to do the job properly, there is a lot of work to do and not all of it is fun or glamorous.
If all you ever talk about with your spouse is the after-game dinner you have with your crew, instead of the difficult run-ins with the visiting coach, he or she won’t understand the full picture. Share the ups and downs of officiating with your significant other.
35. “Where do you think all the money comes from?”
Seems a bit sarcastic to go over well with any spouse. But reminding him or her how officiating positively impacts the family is important. The more games we work, the more money we make. That money buys steak once in a while instead of hamburger. It means one more night’s stay at the theme park hotel on vacation with the kids. It allows us to set a few extra dollars aside for emergencies, like car repairs or a new furnace.
36. “Officiate with me.”
Talk about killing two birds with one stone. The shortage of officials is addressed and couples get some “us time” by officiating together. Working with a spouse means you have a partner you know and trust. It means double the extra cash flow and a lot of shared experiences to discuss around the dinner table. Be prepared for the answer, though. If your officiating is an escape from work and family issues, bringing your spouse along might not be the brightest idea.
37. “How come I’m always right outside the house but never inside it?”
An official knows in his or her heart when a correct call has been made. While coaches, players and fans may not like the decision, they have to live with it. That doesn’t work away from the court or field, so when a spouse disputes a “call,” it can be more frustrating than when it happens in a game. But if your spouse is the crew chief in your household, you might just have to live with it. It doesn’t hurt to ask the question though (or maybe it will, but it would be worth it to hear your spouse’s answer).
Ahh … deep breath. Doesn’t it feel good to speak your mind? It’s amazing what you can accomplish with the right words. ∗